A CPA technology consultant related that after a competing firm folded its IT business, he was asked to write a memo defending his own operation’s efforts in the technology field. “I was asked to explain ‘Why we don’t suck,’” he mused.

Much of business seems like that, and journalism is no exception. In the 1970s, I worked for the Daily Record, based in Morristown, N.J., which went head to head with the much larger Star Ledger for daily news. Our editors scanned the Ledger, which came out earlier in the morning, and copied items our own publication had missed (rewriting them to hide the fact they had been copied.)

“Why didn’t you have this?” was the frequent query. “We had it two weeks ago,” was often the answer. The question and answer are a variation on the “Why we don’t suck” theme.

Business and politicians should run scared. Re-examining a company’s practices is necessary. Challenging an organization to ensure it is running in peak form is essential.

But the directive to explain, “Why we don’t suck” isn’t part of this. It stems from a lack of confidence--lack of confidence in a staff, management’s lack of confidence in itself, and often a lack of message and vision. It’s too often a case of thinking the competition is probably doing it better than our own people. They have to be right because they know what they are doing. The Star Ledger is a bigger newspaper and has better reporters. So we must have been the ones who missed the big news, correct?

Similarly, in IT consulting, the question betrays the uncertainty that many firms have in their technologies businesses. Is the firm in consulting as part of a strategic plan or did it just jump in because everyone else was doing it? The answers should have been found before getting into the business, not in the fallout from some competitor’s implosion.

Just as with the newspaper, these issues rest on whether management has a plan, a good plan that talks about why an organization is in the markets it is in, why it does things the way it does them, giving managers and employees firmer ground to stand on. A good foundation breeds confidence.

And with confidence, members of the organization can spend more time doing their jobs with excellence and less time explaining why the organization’s performance doesn’t suck.

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